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Establishing a Sanctuary
Choosing Your Site | Sanctuary Registration & Incorporation
Choosing the Board of Directors |
Non Profit Management Resources

Choosing Your Site
Selecting a site for your sanctuary can be more difficult than you might think. You must consider specific animal needs, zoning, land purchase, and public access when choosing where to establish your roots.

Before purchasing land you need to come up with a basic plan. What species of animals are you planning to care for and how many? What type of land do these animals require? Depending on the number of animals you are hoping to house, how many acres of land will you need? If pasture land is not available, are you able to get supplemental feed at an affordable cost in the area you are choosing to live?

If you are interested in cattle or sheep, you need to find a place with good pasture land. Animals who graze require hay year round — particularly during seasons when pasture is not available, such as winter or dry
seasons in warmer climates. Goats are browsers and need land where there is not only grass but sufficient under growth, including briar patches, brush and trees, and plants that are non-toxic. Pigs require multiple areas, so they can be rotated off pastures during wet seasons or if they over-graze an area. Pigs will root up land, causing water to pool during rainy weather, creating mud. Beyond the occasional roll to cool off during warm weather, these conditions create an inhospitable place for pigs to linger. They need to have a few fenced in areas, so they can be moved to the next area until the first dries, or is even-graded as necessary. As for ducks and geese, they naturally prefer land with a pond or body of water for bathing and swimming. Alternately, you can install portable pools or bathing areas, but they become costly and are harder to maintain. For chickens and turkeys, they too, need a certain amount of land to graze and roam.

One of the best things you can do before purchasing land is to check with your County Cooperative Extension Agent for input. Their offices are usually listed under the county government pages in your phone directory, or you can obtain this information online. Please refer to Farm Sanctuary’s species-specific care sheets, for any animal you are planning to house, and for recommendations on the amount of land per number of each species.

Prior to accepting or rescuing any animals, evaluate zoning laws to determine what species you can house and how many you can keep, legally, on the land. Even in areas that are agriculturally zoned, there can be laws as to how many of each animal you are allowed to house on the property. Some areas have laws that prevent you from having specific species, such as pigs, or will only allow one rooster and five hens, or two cattle. The ideal option is to find out all of these things before purchasing. If you have existing land, find out if you can get amendments you may need for zoning before bringing in any animals. If not, you may need to choose a different location to start your shelter, or change the number and species of animals that you will shelter.

If you are like most young sanctuaries, you do not have the financial resources at hand to purchase land, build barns and put up fencing all at once. When you begin, you will want to purchase land that will allow you to expand and grow where you are located. If you purchase a five acre plot and within ten years you are at a point where you have far outgrown this space, you may not be able to buy connecting property. Expansion would require you to move to a different property, which can become more costly over time. Ideally, you should construct facilities as your financial resources develop. The key is to think ahead and figure out what your long term goals are and if the property you are looking at will meet those goals. Also, be aware of what is around you at the time. If the land surrounding you is likely to be zoned for suburban expansion (strip malls, subdivisions, etc.) this may not be the ideal location to start an animal sanctuary.

Farm animal shelters provide an opportunity for people to positively interact with “food production” animals and see, first hand, that they are individuals with unique personalities. Being located near a large metropolitan area or tourist destination will enhance your ability to reach more people and provide more opportunities for public education and outreach programs. Again, understand the direction that your local officials plan to take with available land. You don’t want to be in a position where you may need to move your sanctuary to accommodate a strip mall.

Sanctuary Registration & Incorporation

Your anticipated source of funding is the primary factor in deciding whether you establish your sanctuary as a private or public organization. If you have an independent source of continuing income (i.e. income generating trust fund) it may be more advantageous to keep your sanctuary a private entity. You can still do animal rescue work, public education, etc., but without all the
additional administrative and accounting work required of public sanctuaries, like Farm Sanctuary. However, if you are like most sanctuaries and will depend on the public for financial resources, you will need to establish a "not-for-profit corporation" and begin the task of learning and adhering to numerous state and federal rules and regulations for nonprofit, publicly-funded corporations.

The first step towards establishing a public organization is to incorporate as a not-for-profit corporation in the state where your
sanctuary will be located. Each state has different rules and regulations for establishing and operating a not-for-profit corporation such as the number of Board members required, etc. To obtain information on incorporating in your state, check your listings for state offices in the phone book or online. It may be listed under the Department of Taxation & Finance, Office of Regulatory Assistance, or simply, the Department of Corporations. Once you have reached the appropriate state office or department, ask for the forms and instruction guides available for establishing a nonprofit corporation. Instruction booklets will generally provide you with step-by-step instructions, sample completed forms and sample bylaws and articles of incorporation. Think carefully about your purposes and goals as it can affect future organizational programs (i.e. ability to have registered humane officers on staff, tax exemptions, etc.) You can expect the application to take six to eight weeks to process, though some states have online applications that take less time. Annual registration and filing fees are also required for state nonprofit corporations. You may also want to research your state’s regulations regarding sales tax, as some states give nonprofit organizations an exemption from paying sales tax. Though not required by law, it is helpful to have professional legal assistance and you may want to consider hiring an attorney to help with your initial application and/or ongoing reporting requirements.

After you have registered as a state not-for-profit corporation, you may want to apply for federal nonprofit status under section 501(c)(3). The primary benefits include: 1) Donor contributions are tax-deductible; 2) Exempt from paying certain state and/or federal taxes; 3) Foundations require 501(c)(3) status for grant awards; 4) Lower bulk mailing rates; 5) Lends credibility to your organization. Generally, charities dependent on public funding will need to apply for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.

To obtain application forms and informational publications on registering as a 501(c)(3) organization, visit the IRS website. You can also write to the IRS Forms Distribution Center for your state (you can obtain the address from your local library and many libraries have reference sets of IRS publications for your use). Ask for Publication No. 557 Tax- Exempt Status for Your Organization. You can expect your application to take a minimum of two months to process. As with state incorporation, it is not necessary to have a lawyer or CPA file the application, however you will find professional assistance very helpful.

Choosing the Board of Directors

All nonprofit corporations require a Board of Directors, and the number of Board members required is defined by the specific state of incorporation. The first resource of any organization is the Board, and a principle tenet of non-profit management is that the Board is responsible for organizational fundraising and development. Unfortunately, in the real world, it is often difficult to find a group of individuals willing to assume these time consuming and highly skilled responsibilities – and this is particularly true of newly formed non profit organizations. In the beginning, it is likely that your Board of Directors comprises the very people who are doing the day-to-day hands-on work of starting and operating a sanctuary, as well as fundraising and development. While often necessary at first, this will eventually inhibit your sanctuary's growth and development. Whatever responsibilities your Board of Directors assumes, the ultimate goal of a nonprofit organization is to have an independent Board of Directors whose primary responsibility is to assess the overall effectiveness of the organization in fulfilling its purpose and bring needed financial resources to your sanctuary.

Non Profit Management Resources

There are over 300 nonprofit support organizations throughout the country that provide guidance, information and resources for nonprofit management. Professional guidance and help is well worth the cost and can save a lot of resources down the road. The organizations listed below offer free information, professional services and may be able to send more information on non-profit resources in your area. Of course, there are also numerous books and publications on nonprofit management. Take the time now to read and learn as much as you can.

Center for Nonprofit Management
44 Vantage Way, Suite 230
Nashville, TN 37228
Phone: (615) 259-0100

Support Center for Nonprofit Management
305 Seventh Ave New York, NY 10001

You may find valuable information and free or low-cost resources from regional small business associations. Contact your local library or Chamber of Commerce to see if any associations exist in your community. Many established nonprofit organizations are also happy to assist with help and guidance. Develop as many relationships as you can with management-level staff and Board members of nonprofit organizations and be proactive about seeking help. Organizations that provide evaluation services for donors such as The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and Guidestar can provide their recommendations and guidelines for nonprofit organization structure and practices. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) also has a network of attorneys throughout the country, who may be able to assist you with questions about nonprofit incorporation. For more information, visit their website at www.aldf.org or contact them at 127 4th Street Petaluma, CA 94952 or 707-769-7771.